Years ago, Atlanta broadcaster Reggie Gay visited a cemetery where his maternal grandparents are buried. While reading the headstones, he discovered that both had died before age 50.
"I asked my mother what had happened, and she said it was heart disease," Gay said.
Since then, he has partnered with the American Heart Association to help get the word out about cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, especially among blacks.
As a longtime gospel music disc jockey in Atlanta, Gay chose to promote health-themed gospel concerts as a way to get the attention of those who might not be aware of their medical conditions.
His next Heart Health Concert, Saturday at Imani Baptist Church in Lexington, will feature Bobby Jones, of the Bobby Jones Gospel show on BET, and The Nashville Super Choir.
Employees of the Lexington Fayette County Health Department will be on hand to take blood pressure readings and to share information about heart health.
"I'm going to pull someone from the audience and ask if they have gotten their pressure checked," Gay said. "I will be talking about it in the Reggie Gay kind of way. I want to motivate and compel us into action. I think that is the major responsibility of black disc jockeys."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 44 percent of black men and 48 percent of black women have some form of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. Plus, about two of every five black adults have hypertension or high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control.
The American Heart Association says that the prevalence of high blood pressure among U.S. blacks is the highest in the world. Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and is known as the silent killer, because permanent damage can be caused before the person notices a problem.
"You need to come to the concert and get some information," Gay said. "You need to take good care of yourselves. If you allow your temple to break down, it's because you have not been a good steward."
Gay recommends daily monitoring of your blood pressure so any elevation can be a call to action.
"We need to cut back on the salt," Gay said, "and drink more water. We need to cut back on the fried chicken and walk more.
"That's why we do events like this," he said.
Gay grew up in Lexington and earned a degree in mass communication from Eastern Kentucky University. Gay wanted to work in gospel music on the radio, and his first on-air job in Lexington was with the Lexington Fayette County Urban League's WTLA-FM station.
From there, he worked as a board operator for Rock 94.5 WLAP and later WJMM, where he worked for a little more than four years. In 1991, he moved to Atlanta.
"My heart was with gospel music, and there just wasn't much opportunity there," he said. "I had to go. The brook dried up."
He worked on the air at a few stations and as a school teacher before landing jobs with KISS 104 FM, one of the biggest gospel music stations in Atlanta, and with Glory 1340.
Now, after more than 30 years in the broadcast industry, Gay has a radio program and a TV show.
Reggie Gay's Gospel Show can be heard in Atlanta; Chicago; Cincinnati; Greenville, S.C.; Nashville; and in Covington and Louisville in Kentucky. His TV show airs at 6 a.m. Sundays on WTVQ-TV in Lexington at 6 a.m.
And when he's not doing those shows, he travels with gospel performers to promote healthy living.
"I hear a number of people talking about generational curses," he said. "We want to break that trend. High blood pressure and heart disease in families can be broken. That is the primary purpose of this event."
In addition to Jones, other performers include Louisville's Joe Leavell and With One Purpose; Cincinnati's Teresa Teri and Unique; and two gospel groups from Lexington: Family Praise & Worship and Seven.
"This is the official kickoff of the summer season," Gay said. "Over Memorial Day weekend, sometimes there aren't a lot of gospel things going on."